Thursday, November 1, 2012

How Teens Research in the Digital Age - results from recent Pew research study

The Pew Research Center supports a strand of research investigating the impact that the Internet has on American families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, and civic and political life. Their most recent study investigated high school teachers’ views on the impact that Internet and digital devices have had on teens’ research skills. My biggest takeaway from this is the critical importance of continuing to teach digital and information literacy skills to all children.
“Three-quarters of Advanced Placement (AP) and National Writing Project (NWP) teachers say that the internet and digital search tools have had a "mostly positive" impact on their students' research habits, but 87% say these technologies are creating an ‘easily distracted generation with short attention spans’ and 64% say today's digital technologies ‘do more to distract students than to help them academically.’” (Purcell, et al., 2012)
The survey of 2,000 middle and high school teachers found that while the Internet has made information readily accessible to students, most students have come to expect easy, quick answers and are not prepared to dig deeply and think about information critically. Teachers recognize that the amount of information available to students is overwhelming to most students. There is strong support amongst teacher for including content focusing on digital literacy in every school’s curriculum.

It is interesting to dig into the meat of the study itself, beyond the front page headlines. Most notably, the study found that the Internet has changed the very nature of research itself and what it means for students to “do research.”
 “Teachers and students alike report that for today’s students, ‘research’ means ‘Googling.’  As a result, some teachers report that for their students ‘doing research’ has shifted from a relatively slow process of intellectual curiosity and discovery to a fast-paced, short-term exercise aimed at locating just enough information to complete an assignment.” (Purcell, et al., 2012) 
 It would be very interesting to take some of the survey questions that Purcell and her colleagues developed and administer a local survey of teachers’ opinions of students research skills. It seems that this would bolster the role for the library and the virtual learning center in being an integral part of students’ information seeking practices.

Purcell, K., Rainie, L., Heaps, A., Buchanan, J., Friedrich, L., Jacklin, A., ... Zickuhr, K. (2012). How Teens Do Research in a Digital World. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from

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